Techno colour: Grey gadgets have been eclipsed by a rainbow of electronics like Apple's new iPhone 5C

But is bright always right, asks Simon Usborne?

The great tech rumour mill creaked to a momentary pause this week as susceptible consumers preparing to spend more than they should took a first (official) look at Apple's new iPhones. Finally, for a device that changed the way we communicate while displaying the visual variety of a line of Bosch washing machines, they saw a splash of colour.

The iPhone 5C ("c" for colour) – the cheaper of the two models revealed on Tuesday – will come in yellow, green, blue and red. The 5S, meanwhile, the posh one with the fingerprint sensor, will be available in gold, white and "space grey" (but alas not the "champagne" that had been the subject of many rumours).

That Apple, which briefly banished beige from our desktops with its landmark "Bondi blue" iMac in 1998 (before settling on understated silver), has taken so long to bring colour to its monochromatic phones reveals this about the industry: in the minds of play-it-safe manufacturers, growing consumer demand for customisation – and fun – has traditionally failed to overcome the risks involved in paint jobs. Who remembers Microsoft's failed iPod killer, the Zune, which launched in 2006 in black, white or… brown?

Today the average branch of Currys resembles the paint aisles at B&Q. In June, Samsung revealed new options for its flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S4, including "blue arctic", "red aurora", "purple mirage" and "pink twilight". Motorola and its new parent company, Google, went further last month with the release of the MotoMaker design tool, which allows US buyers of the company's Moto X smartphone to select near-infinite colour combinations (if you're not feeling inspired, the program will suggest hues based on your Facebook photos).

Beyond the smartphone shelves, a rainbow of colour plasters speakers, e-readers, cameras, radios, and headphones. Technical advances in mass production partly explain this superficial blooming. Apple admitted it had been harder than it expected to make a white iPhone 4, which it launched almost a year after the black model (the company apparently struggled to match the white of the glass front with the plastic home button) but now colours can be included at a manageable cost.

Apple’s high-colour 5C handset was unveiled earlier this week (Getty) Apple’s high-colour 5C handset was unveiled earlier this week (Getty)  

But are there broader reasons for the change? Karen Haller is a London-based colour and design consultant who has worked with brands including Orange Mobile and Logitech. "I think the early 2000s were about minimalism and everyone wanting to fit in," she says. "Even the home improvement shows were about living in a place with no personality that was ready to sell. Now it's swung the other way and it's all about personalisation, as if industries have given us permission to stand out and show personality."

While the gadget graveyard is dominated by black and shades of beige, there were flashes of inspiration before the current riot broke out. The Compucolor 8001, an early desktop computer launched in 1976, sported a blue and orange casing, while coloured fascias for pre-smartphone Nokias were popular.

The first blue iMac is credited with changing the way we relate to computers, turning them from functional apparatus into showpieces for the home. The popular "hot pink" edition of the Motorola Razr V3, launched in 2006, similarly gave phones new status as covetable fashion accessories. Colours are risky but also plunge corporations further into the fickle world of trends. Predicting what shades will sell has become an art.

Kate Smith, a colour consultant in the US, says trendspotters such as her "ask what political, social, economic issues we're concerned with and how this concern will find its way into colour and design". She says eras defined by scandal, such as the Clinton-Lewinsky affair and the Enron failure, have influenced subsequent demand for sheer and transparent design in everything from packaging to Plexiglass furniture.

Less subtly, Apple's new confidence in colour can also be traced to demands in newer markets such as China. Gold, meanwhile, is popular among wealthy consumers in Russia and the Middle East. Amjad Ali is a Glasgow-raised entrepreneur now based in Dubai, where he runs Gold and Co. The firm is preparing to meet record demand for its new iPhones, which it buys from Apple and then plates in pure gold and sells for £3,000. Ali says he received an order from the Saudi royal family to make a diamond-encrusted 18-carat gold iPhone 5 with a giant jewel for its home button. The bill: £50,000.

But even the super-rich want options. Ali, who says he is also fulfilling an order for 53 gold iPhones for a patriotic Nigerian (the country celebrates 53 years of independence next month), has just added a platinum option to the firm's rose gold. "Muslim men are not supposed to wear gold," he explains. "We had government departments, for example, cancelling orders so now we're launching platinum to tap into a huge market... Everyone wants to be different."

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

    £40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    ***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

    £30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    ***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

    £35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    Senior Software Engineer - C#, VB.Net, ASP.Net - Kingston, Sur

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior Software Engineer - C#, VB.N...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker